Thursday, February 26, 2015

My Favorite Blonde - Where There's Spies, There's Hope!

This post is for the Madeleine Carroll Blogathon, hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings, from February 26th through 27th! Enjoy!

I get a kick out of Bob Hope’s comedy-mysteries from the 1930s and 1940s, including the “Old Dark House” spoof The Cat and the Canary (1939); The Ghost Breakers (1940); and the swell detective spoof My Favorite Brunette (1947). But now I’ve got another favorite for Bob and the girls: My Favorite Blonde (1942), thanks to our great friend and fellow blogger R.A. Kerr (Ruth to us gals on the go!)!

By now, you’ve surely heard of the aristocratic beauty in the Alfred Hitchcock suspense films The 39 Steps (1935); and The Secret Agent (1936) with our gal Maddie (that’s how she was affectionately called by friends and loved ones, so I’m told) as well as the Coming Attractions for her films, as well as on the great Alfred Hitchcock bringing them together when he chose Madeleine as his leading lady in The 39 Steps, as well as Secret Agent (1936), co-starring John Gielgud, this time with Peter Lorre, Lili Palmer, and Robert Young. If you ask me, My Favorite Blonde is a delightful spoof that even our Mr.Hitchcock would get a kick out of!

Hope and Carroll got along right away - a little TOO well
as far as Sterling Hayden was concerned!
Lovely Maddie’s next triumph brought her to the U.S, the home of Radio – talk about great word of mouth! To no surprise, Bob Hope found himself smitten by Maddie, and she was flattered at his devotion. Audiences loved it, eating out of fans’ hands. Like any red-blooded American fella in the 1940s, Bob thought Maddie was the bees’ knees’ knees, and with a war on, Maddie was happy to help the war effort. Bob was dazzled by her wit, charm, and beauty. Bob’s crush on Maddie was a big hit with their repartee on the show. Just one little problem: Maddie thought of Bob as just a an admirer and a colleague, while Bob was truly crushing on our gal Maddie. Bob’s long-time wife Dolores was apparently a good sport, but her fiancé, tough-guy Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar; The Asphalt Jungle), made no bones about it according to author Lawrence Quirk: “Hayden wanted to show up on the set and rearrange the famed ski-nose!” (Who can blame him?)  Just as well, Bob, you had a swell wife, that’s enough, buster!  (My dear late mom would have agreed, as she was a big Sterling Hayden fan!)!

"This can't be California - it ain't raining!"
At the beginning of My Favorite Blonde, we meet our heroine, Karen Bentley (Madeleine Carroll, of course!), a clearly a sophisticated lady indeed, downing a Pousse Café, so cool she can actually show the bartender how to prepare each ring – what a gal! But Karen barely gets time to polish off her off her drink when she sees a seriously wounded man on deck! Turns out she's a spy that would give Peggy Carter a run for her money, and the poor guy turns out to be one of Karen’s good-guy spy colleagues!  He comes to with only enough time to get the "spy info" into her hands - a small scorpion-shaped pin, engraved with coded information for flight plans for a new fleet of warplanes.  Karen has to make tracks before the baddies can catch up to her too!  And believe us, Karen’s foes are no cream-puffs: they’re the evil Madame Stephanie Runick (Oscar-winner Gale Sondergaard; The Letter); and Dr. Streger (George Zucco of After The Thin Man; The Cat and the Canary).

Haines and Percy-guess who's the star?
Karen ditches the baddies with a deft swap in a cab, and ducks into the stage door of a vaudeville theater, claiming to want to talk to the members of the first act she sees on the board, "Haines and Percy".  But even though Larry Haines (Bob Hope) has first billing, he's second banana to his partner, a trained roller-skating penguin! He's heading for The Coast that night for what he claims is a big movie deal (in fact it's Percy who has the offer), but as soon as Karen hears about his plans, she demands to hitch a ride with him, demanding he ask no questions.  She's so cute he can't say no, so when they start on their journey, he's got no idea why she starts jumping into mad characters and accents when she spies (sorry) one of Gayle's Goons lurking nearby.  Grabbing him for an attention diverting kiss one moment and pushing him away the next, Larry exasperatedly asks, “Say, what do operate on, alternating current?”

Larry spends a good portion of the film dazed and confused -- it's not till they reach what's supposed the end of their mission in Chicago does he learn what's really going on, just in time to get properly terrified!  The agent they were supposed to drop the McGuffin off with has been gotten to first - he's got a knife in his back, and the place is surrounded. 

Karen: “They have access to the building. You’ll never get out of this building alive!”
Larry: Lady, if I'm not out of that door in 2 seconds flat, my name's not Larry Haines!
(Villain throws knife, missing Larry by a hair.) Larry turns back: “Meet John Doe!”

For a lighthearted comedy, they got a few great noir-esque shots in!
Larry goes for a classic gag to get a police escort to safety -- they stage a "domestic dispute" that would put the Bickersons to shame, and as soon as they're out of danger, they start "making up" in the back of the police car so cloyingly that the cops boot them out.  Of course, by that time they've found the dead spy in the apartment, and they're blamed for the murder, which only makes the trip to California all the more harrowing! Our heroes also get some swell noir-style imagery in a dark chase scene, but there’s still plenty of cameos in the Teamster picnic, where Karen and Larry face it: they’re addicted to love! But that doesn’t mean there’s still lots of hilarity – not when Carl Switzer, a.k.a Alfalfa, brings pandemonium to a women’s conference, spitting with wild abandon!

Two crooners in one film - that's value!
There's a couple of references to Carroll's The 39 Steps as well - Bob has to give an impromptu speech as they hide from the Nazis, and earlier on, he talks about a mysterious man with "only two fingers on one hand" (and he don't mean Harold Lloyd!)

Also keep an eyes peeled as they try to get lost in a Chicago crowd; that’s Bing Crosby in a cameo in a hilarious scene where Karen and Larry find themselves at a Teamsters picnic, where Irish eyes are both laughing and fighting! Call me a softy, but I was touched by the blend of zany comedy and tenderness, especially in the love scene in the box car. Might as well face it, you crazy kids, you’re added to love!   And watch for the mortuary scene – you might die laughing!

Monday, February 2, 2015

You Shall Have Fun, Hey? A Beatles double-feature by Team Bartilucci

Growing up in the Bronx, I watched late-night movies in my elementary school days, but only on weekends, and even then only when my very favorite films were on TV.  In those days, the only movies I enjoyed most aired so late at night (or so early in the morning, depending on your viewpoint) were The Beatles’ first (and best) two films, HELP! (1965) and A Hard Day’s Night (1964). I mention them in backwards chronological order because that was how our WABC affiliate usually showed them. Maybe WABC-TV figured that HELP!  would draw better ratings, being the wackier and more colorful of the two films literally! My fellow late-1960s baby boomers will recall that A Hard Day’s Night was filmed in glorious Black and White), making sure more insomniac Beatles fans would stay up through the …Night for the entire double-feature. My sister Cara and I couldn’t be more different, but our love of The Beatles was one of the few things we had in common. We knew “Beatles” was the name of a band long before we knew A “beetle” was the name of an insect. But I digress!

Grandma Josie would sleep over and sneak in bags of cookies and candy (the fruit-flavored marshmallows were my favorite) for us to munch while we watched the movies on TV, late-night commercials and all. Mom and Dad usually came home by the time A Hard Day’s Night started, and they’d insist that it was long past my bedtime, even for a weekend night. This is why I never saw the whole movie from start to finish until I was in my teens, but it was worth the wait, quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite movies!


According to TCM’s Roger Fristoe, A Hard Day’s Night was a smash (and no wonder!), a film that had personality as well as singing, was a crowd-pleaser which also had the good fortune to have four cheeky yet endearing young stars:  John Lennon, the mischievous  smart-aleck; the likable Paul  McCartney, the boyish heartthrob;  the quiet yet wry-humored George Harrison, a nice young fella whose laid-back comments steal the show in his quiet way; and loveable nebbish Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey). It didn’t hurt that Director Richard Lester made it for a nimble budget of $500,000 budget!  They’re the Beatles, they’re each likable, smart, and witty, literally making beautiful music together – what’s not to love, as well as talented and hot!  Screenwriter Alun Owen got an Oscar nomination for for his Screenplay and its cheeky, witty dialogue (though My Fair Lady was the winner that year.)

The charm of The Fab Four certainly got them plenty of got mileage from their fame, and even from other new stars in their wake ; hey, the newbies had to eat, too!  But while John, Paul, George and Ringo had plenty of star power and wit, it sure didn’t hurt to have a delightful supporting cast, including:
"So far, I've seen a car and a room, and a TRAIN and a room,
and a ROOM and a room!"

Wilfrid Brambell as Paul's (other) grandfather was ostensibly the film's star, at the time the star of Steptoe and Son, Britain's hottest sitcom, which would come to America years later, with a minor casting change, as Sanford and Son.  The running joke about Paul's grandfather being so "clean" was a play off S&S' catchphrase of the elder Mr. Steptoe being a "FILTHY old man!"

Victor Spinetti is a hoot as the frustrated TV director desperately trying to rein in the chaos of the loveable lads - he'd have better luck lassoing smoke. He swings between boisterous demands for obedience, offers to resign, or fears that if it doesn't go perfectly, he'll end up directing something useless like The Epilogue, (the BBC's traditional end of the broadcast day), or worse, News in Welsh.

Anna Quayle (Chitty Bang Bang-Bang) as a daft fan who John has to convince he's not really him. Eventually she walks away convinced "You don't look like him all like him at all.."   Lennon ad-libs "She looks more like him than I do."

Norman Rossington and John Junkin as the band's frenzied manager Norm and his kindly but "always taller than me" assistant Shake.

The structure of the film is simple, more of a simple skeleton to hang dialogue and wild vignettes on. The Beatles glide merrily though the landscape, a mix of equal parts Marx Brothers, Bugs Bunny, and the Mynah Bird from the Chuck Jones "Inki" cartoons, sowing disarray in their wake.  They are matched only by Paul's Grandfather, sent along to distract him from a broken heart, but spends his time setting various people against each other and enjoying the sparks.

The mayhem starts fast, with The Boys being chased through town (in a sequence that's STILL being copied and "homaged" to this day), ending up on the train to London where the Fab Four (I'm gonna run out of names for these guys any time time now, you know) play merry hell with a stiff-necked Middle-Class City-worker (played by Richard Vernon, who played the man from the treasury in Goldfinger, and years later, Slartibartfast in the TV version of The Hitchhikers' Guide To the Galaxy). 

In town they make their way to the hotel and immediately begin straining at the leash their manager keeps them on. When Paul's grandpa sneaks out to take advantage of Ringo's invitation to a gaming club, the quartet race off to "save" him, only to be retrieved quickly by manager Norm. A whirlwind press conference offers some of the most memorable questions and answers ever, quite an accurate reflection of their real press conferences. In addition to Paul answering every unheard question with "no we're just good friends" there's quoteables like these:

Reporter: Tell me, how did you find America?
John: Turn left at Greenland.

Reporter: Do you think those haircuts have come to stay?
Ringo: Well, this one has, it's stuck on good and proper now (tugs at hair).

Reporter: What would you call that hairstyle?
George: (deadpan) Arthur.
(That's likely the second tip of the hat to mad magazine in the film - Shake is reading the paperback Son of MAD earlier in the movie, and "Arthur" was the name is am avocado plant that popped up inexplicably in the background of many of the proceedings in the magazine.)

"I now declare this bridge open"
Soon they're herded into a TV studio for a variety show program that evening.  All they need do is sit about for a bit between rehearsal and broadcast. Simple.  And the White Star Line expected the Titanic to have an uneventful maiden voyage.   It's at this point the film really opens up - each of the boys get their own chances to shine in what are practically blackout sketches. 
George spends a few minutes scuttling the plans of a marketing whiz (Kenneth Haigh) who he tells that his shirt designs are "dead grotty" and their teen spokewoman Susan is: " A well-known drag"
Ringo "goes parading before it's too late" at Grandpa's urging, and delivers a sad sack mini-performance  that would rival Jackie Gleason. Though it's reported that his dour and pained expression wasn't acting - he was nursing a massive hangover from a hard day's night of drinking the night before!  Maybe that's why Ringo felt pick-on, and not sly Grandfather getting "notions" -- but it's still great fun, with the finale with the lads getting our lads scramlbling all over London!

Shake never learned to shave with a razor, coming  from
"a long line of electricians"
And in between the whole thing are the musical sequences that got director Richard Lester named on of the spiritual fathers of MTV (to which he replied that he wanted a paternity test).
As befits the biggest name of the film, Brambell gets the most "plot" of the film as "Lord" John Mccartney.  He's responsible for inspiring Ringo to go walkabout, and after collecting all the boys' signatures, forges himself a stack of autographed photos and gets in dutch with the peelers, ending up on the booking bench next to young Mr. Starkey. He's the closest the film has to an antagonist - indeed, Paul refers to him as a "villain" right near the beginning.  Once the boys are collected up again (just in time) for the show, the film turns into a mini-concert as they perform before a teeming throng of British youth, which allegedly includes a very young Phil "No Jacket Required" Collins.  It's sort of a thank you to the viewers for sitting through all the narrative, which hopefully by the end they ended up enjoying.  I certainly did.

HELP! (1965)

The Beatles were dragged back before the cameras only a year later for their second film. A bigger budget, more locations, more stars, but the same director, Richard Lester. Lester had experience capturing chaos in a film can - he did The Running Jumping Standing Still Film, starring The Goons (Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan), who were greatly revered by the Liverpudlian Lads.

Now filming in color, and offering a bit more defined plot, the film still offered more than enough room for wackiness and Beatleific behavior.

Originally titled "Eight Arms to Hold You", a title nobody really cared for, but changed so late in the production process that the first single, featuring Ticket to Ride and Yes It Is, says that it's from the upcoming film The film begins in a heathen temple in some heathen country, where a human sacrifice is being offered to Kaili, a non-existent but real-sounding eastern diety, the extra vowel likely added to avoid insult to any remaining Thugees.  The proceedings are halted as the less-than-willing subject is not wearing the sacrificial ring - she secretly mailed to a pop-star in Britain with a predilection for rings, named...? Anyone?

Now, let's not always see the same hands...

Yes, Ringo ends up with the McGuffin stuck on his finger, and gets chased throughout the film by High Priest Clang played by Leo McKern (The Prisoner, Rumpole of the Bailey) and his bevy of assassins, headed (or perhaps hindered) by Ahme, played by Eleanor Bron (Bedazzled). Ringo tries all sort of things to get the ring off, eventually entering the grasping hands of Professor Foot (the returning Victor Spinetti) and his hapless assistant Algernon Roy Kinnear (Williy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Foot sees the seemingly indestructible ring as a means to...dare I say it...rule the world - perhaps he was thinking of a certain other Ring.

This was Eleanor Bron's first film - she'd go on to be
one of Britain's grand dames of comedy
The Beatles have a cartoony disconnect from reality in the film.  It starts in their domicile, which from the outside seems to be four contiguous flats in a suburban street of row homes, but from within it's revealed to be on monstrous single room made up of the interiors of the Fab Four, an architectural miracle that we of Team Bartilucci would love to duplicate as soon as that lottery money starts rolling in.  We see a lot more exaggerated physical comedy situations in this film, from the overclocked hand dryer in the men's room to the floor being sawed through under Ringo's drum set as the heathens attempt to initially retrieve the ring, and as the sun sets, attempt to sacrifice the new wearer, AKA The Famous Ringo. Paul is shrunk to the size of a stick of gum in a rather well-done bit of scenery, and Professor Foot uses all sorts of mad contraptions. It's a far more cinematic film than the first one, which maintains a rather grounded state, if rather off-level.

As with the first film, the boys have unique and individual personalities, a practice applied to almost all pop bands in the 60's onward.  Paul is (of course) the dashing lady-killer, George the quiet one, though able to deliver the occasional stinging barb, John the inscrutable trickster god, and Ringo the hapless boob.  Indeed, it's Ringo's cowardice that causes the ring to "cling to your finger like the hunger of a child"

Quite a few more stars of British comedy make a showing in the film.  In addition to the aforementioned, we see Patrick Cargill (Father Dear Father, and another Number Two on The Prisoner) as the Superintendent of Police and a master of mimicry, and Alfie Bass (The Lavender Hill Mob, The Army Game) as the doorman of an Indian restaurant (thank god for British unions).
The film jumps about from the Alps to the Bahamas, for little reason other than the lads had never been there and asked for scenes there so they could get a vacation in.  While in the Alps, the mentioned they'd never been skiing - Richard Lester pressed skis and poles into their hands, telling them to "find a hill and practice".  He filmed the results, which became much of the meat of the Ticket to Ride sequence.

In a gag worthy of The Goons, Clang packs up the entire temple
in crates and ships it to the Bahamas, cause
The Beatles wanted a holiday.
The film is also rife with spy jokes - United Artists was also releasing the Bond films, so there's tons of gags in the film like Clang's  van dropping tacks, Bhuta carrying a sword umbrella, and tossing his turban Oddjob-style.  The score offers a few Bond-ish stings in there, as well as wittily disguised covers of past Beatles songs.  the all-sitar version of A Hard Day's Night is hilarious, especially the first time you realize what it is.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Agnes Moorehead - What a Character!

Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6, 1900 Always a bright child, Agnes was a talented youngster, so it was no surprise that she became a brilliant character actress.  Indeed, Agnes enjoyed playing different characters for the fun of it so much, her mother would always say, “Who are you today, Agnes?”
The first time I had heard about Agnes Moorhead was when I was a little kid in New York City, living in the charming Country Club area of the Bronx.  We loved the smash TV sitcom Bewitched, the 1964 – 1972 comedy about witches in suburbia, starring Elizabeth Montgomery.  Being kids, we didn’t realize Ms. Montgomery was part of a film and TV dynasty, including actor/producer Robert Montgomery (Here Comes Mr.Jordan; They Were Expendable; Lady in the Lake; Ride the Pink Horse)Agnes always cracked us up as Endora, Samantha’s irksome yet hilarious mother, always a show stopper with her tart tongue and fabulous wardrobe, usually in hues of purple!  Indeed, friends often affectionately called Agnes “The Lavender Lady” or “Madam Mauve.”
Ever the world traveler, Agnes worked in France and studied with none other than the great mime Marcel Marceau! She taught public school English and drama for five years, as well as going to Paris to study pantomime.  No doubt that came in handy with the memorable Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders.”! 

Agnes covered just about every medium (no pun intended…well, maybe a little!), starting with singing at a St. Louis band radio station, and that particular medium stayed with Agnes all her life, from the 1930s  through  the 1950s, with shows ranging from Terry and The Pirates as The Dragon Lady; The March of Time; and so much more – makes me wish I could have been young with a great voice back then!

It seemed Agnes could do anything in any medium, bless her!  Agnes’ Radio triumphs included wicked Mrs. Danvers in
Rebecca; and Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number (a broadcast I’d love to hear if I could)!   Such was Agnes’ zeal to perform on the airways, she insisted on its pre-continuation of a later contratct with MGM — clever gal, our Agnes!  Even better, through her Radio work on The Shadow and The March of Time in 1937, Agnes met and befriended fellow actor Orson Welles!  Knowing a great performer when he saw one, Welles invited her to join him and Joseph Cotton as Charter members of his Mercury Theater of the Air, and Agnes was among the company responsible for the 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds", scaring the heck out of the populace -- and making a name for herself as well as the rest of the cast, with Agnes wowing Radio fans all the way, famous ever after  – oh, those Mercury scamps!

Agnes was practically bulletproof with her chameleon dexterity, thanks to her great voice, so it was only a matter of time when Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater came a’knocking, starting as Citizen Kane’s mother, and the rest was history!

Agnes got her first Oscar nomination for her role as Auntie Minafer in The Magnificent Andersons (1942), as well as New York Film Critics.   She hit a home run with Lucille Fletcher’s thriller Sorry, Wrong Number 

Wish I could have seen them on stage as well!

Agnes didn’t get any Oscars (though she should have, in my opinion; nothing personal, Barbara Stanwyck!), but she was nominated four; times in her long career:  the aforementioned  The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948) AND Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). 
There was only one thing that could stop the unforgettable Agnes, and that’s death – and not just any death, but death from fall-out from the Atom Bomb, no less!   Poor Agnes; she and her fellow stars of The Conquerer had the unwitting misfortune to be filming on a site that happened to be on Ground Zero, and Agnes, John Wayne, director Dick Powell, and the rest of the all-star cast the cast, including Agnes, got uterine cancer.  No wonder Agnes said, " I wish I’d never made that picture.”
Agnes is always riveting and stunningly memorable, but my favorite is still the film noir Dark Passage (1947)  with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, based on David Goodis' noir novel.  Agnes  is stunning as Madge Rapf, a dame as mesmerizing as she is vicious, a dame who draws me to her out of one side of her mouth and pushes them away with the other.  She's the type who won't let anyone have something if she can't have it - a compulsion that causes her to go to quite serious ends!

Want to hear more about the amazing life and times of the late, great Agnes Moorhead? Read Agnes’s autobiography I Love The Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorhead!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gunga Din - Go Blow Your Horn!

This is the British Empire Blogathon, hosted by The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires, from November 14 through November 19, 2014.  Enjoy the other bloggers’ posts, as well, eh what?

RKO’s 1939 adventure Gunga Din is an adventure of men who know when to have boyish fun, while also knowing when get they must realize when to also be dead serious!  Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t be pranksters, bless them!

Fun Fact:  Producer Pandro S. Berman had been Lucille Ball’s sweetie at the time Gunga Din was in theaters!

Story by Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol  
Story by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur, based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem.
Music: Alfred Newman
Produced and directed by George Stevens (Giant; A Place in the Sun)

Cutter (Cary Grant) shows Din (Sam Jaffe)
how to be all military
The Place:  Colonial India, in an encampment of Her Majesty’s Lancers, where there seems to be a shortage of manpower, mostly because soldiers are disappearing – talk about foul play!  No, the luckless men aren’t going AWOL –they’re being murdered by the fearsome Thuggee cult! 

Who can get to the bottom of this evil mystery?  Meet our wild and crazy Lancers and best buddies:

Grant's perfect Stan Laurelesque expression
never fails to get a laugh from us!

*Cutter (Cary Grant from Notorious; North By Northwest.) He’s always wishing, hoping, and praying for riches; get in line, Cutter!  But he’d better be careful what he wishes wish for…

 *MacChesney, the most seasoned and brashest of the men, played by Victor McLaglen from The Quiet Man, who also won the Best Actor Oscar in 1935 for John Ford’s drama The Informant.  Our rowdy heroes are a lively bunch, boozing and brawling; men will be boys, bless them!  It’s great rollicking fun, while still being surprisingly moving.  

This isn't a Bollywood number -- these Thugee
mean business!
What should I know about it? Why axe me?
*Last but not least, we meet the more gentlemanly Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. from Green Hell); who’s about to marry his sweetie, Emmy (Joan Fontaine, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion).  As Ballantine’s soon-to-be son-in-law, he’s giving up derring-do to work with Emmy’s dad in the family tea business, and our boys are crestfallen that our three comrades will be leaving!  Will he really be content with a life of Oolong and Earl Grey tea after all the excitement they’ve had together?

Grant, McLaglen, and Fairbanks are truly a dream team, especially the nimble Grant, who was an acrobat in real life.  The gags about Annie the elephant especially crack us up! But it all turns dead serious when our boys’ yen for gold turns into a matter of life or death  when the riches they find turns out to be the Thuggees in the their rumpus room -- YIKES!     

Can Din and Cutter and the rest save the day? Sam Jaffe, always a brilliant character actor (The Asphalt Jungle), touches my heart the best; he’s a little fella, but he turns out to have a heart of a lion.  I defy you to watch the end without tears in your eyes, even if you think your're the biggest rough-neck in town! 

Fun fact: - Reginald Sheffield  played: Rudyard Kipling in Gunga Din!

Watch that first step, Annie - it's a Loo-Loo!!
As The New York Times said in 1939 (a great year for movies in any event) said: “All movies…should be like the five the first-twenty-five and the last thirty minutes…"
I get such a kick out of friendships among Grant, McLaglen, and Fairbanks.  I also enjoyed Robert Coote (Merry Andrew; TV’s The Rogues) as Higgenbotham, a cadet who majors in bumbling.

Want to know for about the Thuggee cult? Watch The Deceivers (1988), starring Pierce Brosnan (1988), one of my dear late Mom's favorite films! (It didn't hurt that Brosnan was and still is a hottie -- but that's a blog post for another time!)

Vinnie plays a few notes -- It's somewhat ironic that Sam Jaffe gets fourth billing in the film, even though he plays the title character. Not to mention that he was forty-seven when he played the role, thought Din was usually described as a "boy." Nonetheless, he unsurprisingly crushes the role.
The film is another example of an "of the time" movie - the Indians were treated as almost sub-human, and no issue was found with that. Heck, I'm amazed the original poem hasn't been the target of a call for erasure from history for its treatment of the people. It's probably saved by the fact that so few people have actually read it.

Likely the main reason Din gets such short shrift is the film takes the tale of the epic poem and demotes it to the "B" plot.  The main story is clearly that of the three Lancers, who are following a Rom-Com plot best seen in The Front Page, summarized as "Friends don't want to see one of their crew get married, and proceed to sabotage the nuptials."  It's so standard a plot it's been getting done for decades -- the most recent example of it I can recall off the top of my head was Saving Silverman, but I'll bet y'all can think of others.

Possibly the first example of the famous title credit
"Suggested by a true story"
Kali, the goddess of Death and her bully boys the Thuggee have made appearances in a number of films - in addition to The Wife's recommendation of The Deceivers, they also showed up in a slightly more disguised form in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and in a far funnier form in The Beatles' second filmic sortie Help! Phileas Fogg (David Niven) saved an Indian princess (Shirley MacLaine, a more sore-thumb example of what's now known as "whitewashing" than I can think of) in Around the World in 80 Days, and even Hammer Studios got in on the fun with the -grisly Stranglers of Bombay.

Like Nazis and Republicans, they make a great, easily hateable villain for a story. Even the master criminal Fu Manchu employed Thuggee as assassins.

There's been some controversy as to how much of the news of the Kali worshipers (where the modern word "thug" comes from, dontchaknow) that made it to Europe was real, and how much was a mix of xenophobic hyperbole. The Thuggee certainly existed, and killed many, though there's an argument that the motive was more Earthly that the religious aspect - Thuggee were certainly predominantly thieves, and the robbery was often more a goal than the ritual killing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oh, Kay! A Double-Feature about Kay Francis

This is posted  for The CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon, in this case, Kay Francis!  Check out the other fabulous stars who deserve a comeback!
“My life?  Well, I get up at a quarter to six in the morning if I’m going to wear an evening dress on camera.  That sentence sounds a little ga-ga, doesn’t it?  But never mind, that’s my life…As long as they pay me my salary, they can give me a broom and I’ll sweep the stage.  I don’t give a damn.  I want the money... so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth. I can't wait to be forgotten.” 
 "Kay Francis’ Private Diaries, ca. 1938.”  
Kay Francis just might be the biggest of the so-called Forgotten Stars, at least to as far as I’m concerned. Kay came into my life by way of my college days at both Fordham University in the Bronx and courses at both the Bronx and  Manhattan branches of Fordham University. Whenever I had time both time and money, I’d go to buy film goodies from Movie Star News, a treasure trove of vintage posters, movie scripts, and so much more wonderful memorabilia from decades of amazing posters and other goodies for us movie lovers.  Movie Star News was run by the brother and sister team brother of Irving and  Paula Klaw in the Village. Paula kind of gave me the Hairy Eyeball at first (understandably; they treat their wonderful wares like they were their children, and who can blame them?), but when Paula realized we were on the same page, we became friendly, and that was how Kay became one of my favorite classic stars!

Kay might be considered a “forgotten star” here in 2014 (unfairly, at least in this gal’s opinion), but that wasn’t always the case!  She is considered the biggest of the “Forgotten Stars” from Hollywood’s  Golden Age. In Kay's heyday in the 1930s, she was  tagged as “The Queen of Warner Brothers,” with a hefty salary of $115,000, comparable to Bette Davis with $1,800!  Nice work if you can get it, indeed!

Ironically, Kay didn’t out start as a movie queen, even though she was the daughter of actress Katherine Clinton, unless you count that Kay’s first job was royalty of another kind:  Kay sold real estate and arranged swanky parties for wealthy socialites; I guess that'one way to learn one the ropes!  !"Following her marriage in 1922 to wealthy James Dwight Francis, Kay naturally, Kay adopted “Kay Francis” as her stage name.  And what a pedigree:  Kay’s first dramatic role was as the lead in a modern version of Hamlet, with Kay as “The Player Queen!.”

Throughout the decade of the 1930s, Kay Francis was a top Hollywood star, her career a perfect example of the sort that once flourished in the studio system.  A tall, sultry beauty, she wore clothes with style and grace, and her name became synonymous with glamour, fashion and modern womanhood. She starred in stylish comedies such as Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), and the Marx Brothers's The Cocoanuts (1929), but she is best remembered for her films in which a woman of poise and intelligence "faced life," such as Dr. Monica (1934), Living on Velvet (1935), In Name Only (1939), and House on 56th Street (1933).

Kay Francis and William Powell get in cozy in One Way Passage (1932)
She had limited success in the early 1940s and, no longer able to land good roles, retired from film in 1946. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Francis turned to the stage, appearing with some success on Broadway in State of the Union and touring in various productions of plays old and new, including Windy Hill, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, Let Us Be Gay, Favorite Strangers, Goodbye, My Fancy, The Web and the Rock, Mirror, Mirror, and Theatre. She also acted in two television programs. She died in 1968 of breast cancer (damn cancer!).

Kay got her first film role in the first Marx Brothers comedy, The Cocoanuts (1929), playing Penelope, a slinky jewel thief who gets in the middle of the Marx Brotherszany romp during the Florida land boom, with the boys running a hotel (practically into the ground!) and making merry mischief at an auction land, thwarting Penelope and her partner, helping, and generally act like their zany, incorrigible selves.  The grey-eyed beauty with the a voice as warm as honey was poised for sound and glamorous in her looks and her poise; no wonder Kay was lauded in her heyday as “Hollywood’s Best Dressed Woman,” with designers like Dorothy Jeakins, Travis Banton and Adrian.  After Kay got her big break she became an in-demand  a leading lady in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy Trouble in Paradise (1932); Doctor Monica; One Way Passage (1932), starring another Team Bartilucci favorite, William Powell; I Found Stella Parish (1935); and so much more.   
But we're here to celebrate Kay, so let's enjoy two of Team Bartilucci's favorite blog posts saluting our gal Kay!

Kay Francis Double Feature
1: One Way Passage (1932)

I admit it:  I usually don’t enjoy “weepies,” those sentimental movies where you’d better get out your hankies.  I’d rather watch an MST3TK episode T3K  episode, because life is too short to be sad if I don’t have to be! However, I was pleasantly surprised that that One Way Passage had an enjoyable blend of comedy, drama, and tenderness.  Kay and William Powell (another Team Bartilucci fave) have worked together before (For the Defence; Jewel Robbery, and the pair work together beautifully under the sure hand of  Director Tay Garnett (The Postman Always Rings Twice; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). Orry-Kelly’s fabulous wardrobe is outrageously over the top, but on Kay, it suits her perfectly, especially her hats and gowns, and Powell’s snappy duds are sharp, too!

One Way Passage is the story of two starcrossed lovers: Dan Hardesty (Powell) a murderer who killed a no-goodnik who needed killing, but Dan’s handler, Steve (Warren Hymer), is a bit more sympathetic to Steve when after Dan saves him from drowning instead of letting him and his "bracelts" scram!  Meanwhile, we meet Joan (our gal Kay Francis), a woman who loves life, but has little time left.  The doctor suggests quiet, but when she sees the dashing Dan, Joan knows what she wants, and it isn’t peace and quiet; as Auntie Mame would say, “I want to live, live LIVE!”  Instead of spending her numbered days sitting in bed with no what-not, Joan is determined to..."cram in all the intense beautiful happiness in what life I've got left. That's all living's for! If it's only for a few hours, I want to have it, and I'm going to have it, all I can get my hands on!" You tell '''em, Kay!, er, Joan!  The trick is to keep the sad news for each of them -- why each can't come clean in these kind of movies always bewilders me, but those you know how these star-crossed sweeties are in these films!  Anyway, Kay and Powell are so endearing, even a cynic like me can't help loving them,  It also helps that the supporting cast is enjoyable, with Aline MacMahon as a con artist posing a countess, and Team Bartilucci fave Frank Mc Hugh as a loveble tippler who nevertheless helps the lovebirds in their zany ways.

 Kay Francis 2: Raffles (1930)
Raffles takes that nursery rhryme seriously!

My dear late mom was a woman of many facets, including her love of fashion.  She would tell me about the styles of the era, and how dashing actors like Ronald Colman were. With that velvet voice and charm, who would't want to join Raffles in derring do and romance -- other then Inspector MacKenzie, and even HE admits  he can't help liking the guy!

Raffles, AKA The Amateur Cracksman, is  a right guy, saving his desperate friend Bunny, who's in hock to the bankers.  Our clever hero, who has a knack for a caperr with the Marchioness of Melrose.  Just one snag: another flock of thieves is muscling in!  It's up to Raffles to set things right in his debonair way -- as long as Inspector McKenzie doesn't gum up the works! Luckily, his fiancee, the Lady Gwen (played by our gal Kay) is sympathetic to his zany yet suspenful dilemma.

Wow, who knew Lady Melrose was a cougar, that little minx!

Gwen, my darling, I love you more!
No, my sweet, I love YOU more! No, you!

Alas, Kay’s reign was coming to an end at Warner Brothers; Kay’s salary was getting too expensive for Warner Brothers, and she was pink-slipped when Warner Brothers felt she was getting too expensive to keep. It’s been claimed that Warner Brothers’ writers were sneakily sabotaging Kay with her lisp becoming more noticeable as Kay, it’s said, was ’s “L“L”’ dubbed Kay,"The Wavishing Kay Fwancis" -- wiseguys!

Kay was relegated to Monogram, though she did excellent work like the trouper she was.  She did some TV and stage work before she finally decided to retire in 1952.  Kay spent the rest of her life in New York and her estate in Falmouth, Cape Cod until, sadly, she died of breast cancer in 1966.  She left some of her estate (in excess in of $1 million) to the Seeing Eye Incorporated.  Kay’s personal papers are accessible at the Weslyan Cinema Collation, as requested. 

Will Kay Francis have a well-deserved renaissance?  Well, I agree with other fans like me who agree.  So, as Kay and  her co-star William Powell in One-Way Passage  would say, let’s not say farewell, but instead, let’s say “Say auf wiedersehen,” because I think Kay is due for a renaissance We Kay fans are coming around to rediscover the grey-eyed Kay for a comeback for her, indeed, even a renaissance, if you ask me and other fans!    Don’t count her out yet!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The O Canada Blogathon - Of Hacks and Hoseheads

This blog is sponsored  by The O Canada  Blogathon, running through Saturday, October Fourth, through October Ninth, 2014
hosted by
Ruth from Silver Screenings and Kristina from Speakeasy, hosted by Kristina Dijan and R.A. Kerr!

Dori's pick - Two O’Clock Courage (1945):  I’m Just Wild About “Harry!”

Anthony Mann is one of film’s most compelling and versatile directors/ producers, covering genres ranging from Westerns, like The Tall Target (1951), starring Dick Powell; and Robert Cummings in The Black Book, a.k.a Reign of Terror (1949) a film noir thriller set during  the French Revolution, among others. The multifaceted Mann could do it all, including helming rough and ready urban noirs such as T-Men (1947), Side Street (1950), and Raw Deal (1948), as well as costume epics like the aforementioned The Black Book.  Mann especially excelled with his noir-style collaborations with James Stewart, including Winchester '73 (1950), Stewart’s neo-noir Westerns, including The Far Country (1955), Bend of the River (1952), including The Naked Spur (1953); Bend of the River (1952); The Far Country (1955); and The Man From Laramie (1955). 

Two O’Clock Courage turned out to be Anthony Mann’s first directorial assignment, a good solid “B” picture” for RKO Radio Pictures!  (Say it with me  a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A: “An RKO Radio Picture.  What the heck is a Radio Picture?”).  Since then, the film has had a strong following and acclaim, with many of Mann’s signature tropes on display. Two O’Clock Courage was produced at RKO Radio Pictures!  Mann’s film may have had a relatively short running-time of a fleet-footed 70 minutes, but director Mann shines in his directorial debut.  The film weaves suspense and playfully cheeky humor, while blending film noir suspense with wry wit.  Fun Fact:  The script by Robert E. Kent is full of surprises, including co-writer Robert E. Kent’s original treatment, based on the work of humorist and children’s-book author Gelett Burgess, who I loved as a kid!  Who knew Burgess had film noir in his soul as well?  Now there’s a gent with range! 

You can't get blood from a stone, but you can from
Tom Conway's head! (Big owie!)
The cast blends memorable stars and entertaining character actors, including Richard Lane (Wonder Man; the Boston Blackie movie series with Lane as Inspector Farraday. Watch for another up-and coming young star, billed as “Bettejane Greer”; she soon rose to stardom as noir temptress Jane Greer, who became a film star in Out of the Past and The Big Steal, as well as the James Cagney biopic Man Of A Thousand Faces (1957)! Our star is Tom Conway from The Falcon film series, as well as Cat People; I Walked With A Zombie (1943;) The Seventh Victim (1943) from Val Lewton)!  Fun Fact: Conway was also married to Queenie Leonard from And Then There Were None (1945); The Narrow Margin; 1001 Dalmatians (the original Disney animated film!

Beaned, slugged, crowned; it all means the same - Amnesia!
The ever-suave Tom Conway stars as a mystery man — a man so mysterious, even he doesn’t know who he is!  Where’s The Falcon when you need him?!  But that opening scene is swell, starting with a tracking shot of Conway as he staggers up to a street sign, blood trickling slowly from under his hat, is a stylish grabber of an opening that keeps you hooked!  This poor dazed guy is lucky our heroine, Patty Mitchell, taxi cab driver by day, would-be stage actress by night, was paying attention when our man-in-distress almost got run over!  But when it becomes clear that our guy is in a bad way, kind-hearted Patty helps him to find out who he is as we drive into the night in Patty’s cab, “Harry”! (Yes, that’s what Patty calls her taxicab,“Harry!)

Ann Rutherford - they don't make cabbies like her no more!
Is our man in trouble, or a troublemaker? Can our charming, spunky heroine Patty Mitchell (Ann Rutherford),a cabbie  and would-be actress, lend him a hand?  Fate steps in just in time to for Patty to save our dazed stranger and would-be stage star, and they’re off to see who our man is, and who wanted him clobbered.  The only clue is a script titled "Two’Clock Courage" (Yay, we have title!), and the hot stage star Barbara Borden (Jean Brooks from Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim, as well as several Falcon films; Brooks looks lovely as a blonde, too).  In Robert to Osborne’s intro to Two’O Clock Courage, he playfully describes co-star Ann Rutherford as: “the prettiest cab driver you’ve ever seen!”

Even when she was starlet
"Bettejane Greer", Jane Greer
was smokin'!
Ms. Rutherford had long been an endearing young MGM ingénue as Mickey Rooney’s sweetie, Polly Benedict at MGM, as well as Red Skelton’s fiancée in the comedy-thriller Whistling in the Dark and its comedy-mystery sequels, not to mention a modest little flick called Gone With The Wind, where our gal Ann played her sister Carreen at Selznick Studios, plus her MGM days as Andy Hardy’s sweetie, Polly Benedict in the “Andy Hardy” movies.  And don’t forget Ann as the dreary yet hilarious fiancée of Danny Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty from Samuel Goldwyn!

Fun Fact:  Ann Rutherford had thought she she’d been a U.S. citizen all her life, until her plans to visit Europe in the 1950s showed her otherwise: our Ann was a Canadian!  Happily, she was able to get citizenship papers, and Ann  became a citizen of the U.S, fair and square!

Back to Patty and her new amnesiac friend, it’s not all playtime for our no-name hero, by any means!  On closer inspection, it turns out the natty gent has a nasty gash on his head, and he can’t remember who he is, despite his sharp clothes.  Even worse, Patty realizes this dashing fellow is injured, all dazed with blood dripping (albeit tastefully by 1945 suspense movie standards), without a clue as to where and who he’s from and who he is.  Diagnosis from Doctor Dorian: Protagonist on a dark Los Angeles street, almost getting run over by our heroine’s taxi!  Patty Mitchell ( poor guy almost gets run over by a cab driver, just missing a hit-and-run from our dazed hero)!

This hat band is brimming over with clues!
Luckily for our traumatized fella, he finally catches a break with the help of Patty Mitchell (Rutherford from Gone With The Wind; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; the comedy-mystery Whistling in the Dark and its three sequels, also in Whistling in the Dark and co-starring Rutherford and Red Skelton) feel sorry for our beleaguered hero.  Patty and her trusty hack, Harry – yes, that’s the name of Patty’s cab (Hey, I have a car named “Moonpearl’, so why I shouldn’t our gal Patty have a car called “Harry”?  But I digress!)  Patty realizes this dashing fellow is injured, all dazed with blood dripping (albeit tastfully by 1945 suspense movie standards), without a clue as to where who from and who he is.  Diagnosis from Doctor Dorian: Amnesia, the scourge of every film noir victim, the poor devils!  Our man Patty and Patty go all through the night with wit and tenderness between the zanier parts of our caper.

How we had to look things up before Google.
Fun Fact:
  In addition to being a busy film star at MGM and Samuel Goldwyn (the latter being Goldwyn’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Ann Rutherford was also married for many years to David May, the head honcho of the May Department store for the rest of their lives, I’m told, bless them!

Two O’Clock Courage was a remake from 1936, starring Walter Abel, longtime veteran of movies and Broadway. In fact, Abel played the amnesiac hero in the 1936 suspense drama Two in the Dark, which was remade in 1945 with Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford as Two O’Clock Courage, hence our tale!!
Fun Fact:  Tom Conway has a brother:  Oscar-winning Best Supporting actor George Sanders, Suave Fall of Fame Winner!  He was also the Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor in All About Eve!

Either "Dave Renwick is a clothes horse,
or he's got a double life!
Ann Rutherford need her papers, - our hero made
sure Patty got hers!
Along the way of this playful mystery, our man at least he east has a name, even though it’s a nickname.   Our amnesiac hero just might be a killer, yet he’s equally sure he’s not a killer, goshdarnit!  The ever-perky Ann Rutherford plays the young actress/cabbie who takes pity on poor helpless Conway and helps him find both his true identity and the real murderer, with both warmth and zany comedy, including a nosy landlady, complicating this dizzy case with nosy reporters (Richard Lane of Wonder Man) and zany comedy.  During their search for answers, our man and Patty run into and afoul of L.A.’s Finest as the newspapers start asking for answers, too; it’s always something!  

Sometimes the broad comic relief is jarring compared to the overall taut film noir mood, but the pace is fast, and Conway and Rutherford have a charming rapport.  Jean Brooks and Tom Conway especially moved me in their dramatic roles.  Conway in particular had a sad, haunted look in his eyes that touched our hearts.

Service with a slam!

Vinnie's pick - Strange Brew (1983) - "To Be or Not to be, eh?"

The genesis of Great White North, possibly the most well known recurring skit from SCTV, is as eminently Canadian as the sketch.  The show needed two minutes of "local" material to satisfy the stringent rules for Canadian Content.  Dave Thomas sarcastically suggested that he and Rick Moranis dress up in flannel and parkas and ramble for two minutes in easy chairs in front of a map of Canada.  The producers said that'd be fine, and Canada's favorite sons were born.

After TV fame and a hit record album (featuring a hit single with lead vocals by Geddy Lee from Rush), the world of film was the obvious next step. With a script by Moranis and Thomas with help from Steve De Jarnatt (the devious maniac who brought us Miracle Mile and Cherry 2000), the McKenzies stepped into an expanded cartoony world in a tale that was blatantly ripped off from Hamlet.

We first see the brothers as they introduce their science fiction magnum opus, The Mutants of 2051 A.D.  When the film breaks and the audience riots, Bob gives their father's beer money to a distraught father whose kids saved up their allowance to attend the premiere.  This requires a clever plan to get their dad some beer, but as they are not clever men, they stuff a mouse in a beer bottle and attempt to complain for free beer.  They're sent to the Elsinore (!) brewery, where most of the plot is located.

We meet in rapid succession Pam Elsinore (Lynne Griffin) who is set to inherit the company after the passing of her father, Claude Elsinore (Paul Dooley), her uncle and now step father, who married her mother just a tad too soon after the passing of her father (Like I said, Hamlet) and Brewmeister Smith (Max Von Sydow) a man with plans for world domination through a plan that includes drugged beer, organ music, lunatics, and hockey.

With the exception of Thomas and Moranis, and magnificent character actor Paul Dooley, the cast of the film is largely made up of actors who are World Famous In Canada.  Lynne Griffin has had a solid career in Canadian productions, as has Angud MacInnes who played ex-hockey star Jean laRose.  Smith's assistant Brian McConnachie, in addition for a steady acting career and a writer for both SCTY and Saturday Night Live, is best known for being a writer for the National Lampoon, which was a vicious and magnificent humor magazine back in the day, as opposed to being nothing more than a brand name you can license and slap on your product like Black and Decker.

"I could crush your a nut.
But I won't. Because I need you."
Shakespeare couldn't have written a better line.
But the star of the film is undoubtedly Max Von Sydow.  He is that rarest of actors who can look at a script, figure out exactly how much fun he can have with a role, and deliver a performance that both shines and works perfectly in the film. This is a man who started working with Bergman in great works like The Seventh Seal, played in a TV movie in The Diary of Anne Frank, and yes, I was getting to it, was Ming the Merciless in the nigh-legendary version of Flash Gordon.  He's currently filming a part for the next Star Wars film.  If there was a just and righteous God in heaven, he would again be playing Ming.

The film takes place in a mad cartoon-logic world where people can stay underwater for almost an hour by breathing the air trapped in empty beer bottles, ghosts communicate via video games, a man can drink an entire vat of beer, and dogs can fly if sufficiently bribed with the promised of beer and bratwurst.

It's a mad film that never fails to bring a smile to my face, and it was a delight popping it into the DVD player to enjoy again.  I expect the same will be true for you.